VIDEO | 2m
May 13, 2020
Workplace trends come and go, but the pace of change has accelerated faster than ever. In 2018, only 3.6% of U.S. employees worked at home half-time or more; by the first week of April 2020, 34% of Americans who previously commuted to work reported they are working from home during social distancing. With the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic forcing rapid shifts in how and where we work, many of the debates we were having about workplace design now seem moot. The open-floor-plan versus office debate is much less relevant with the new normal of nearly all office employees working from home.
In the face of sudden change to our work paradigm, it’s worth stepping back to ask ourselves about the long-term workplace of the future. What will the physical workplace and employee experience of the future look like? Which industries will be most affected in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic? What skills will be especially relevant after this crisis? In this post, we will explore possible answers to such questions as we ponder our shared future of work.
While social distancing measures have required employees who can work remotely to do so, the trend of working from home was already accelerating before this crisis. As our workforce learns to collaborate and do their best work from home, many remote workers who can return to offices after this crisis will choose not to do so. This means it’s possible that COVID-19 may have cemented remote work as the primary mode of working over shared office environments.
So, what will companies do with their physical office real estate? Considering COVID-19’s financial impacts on company liquidity rank as the top concern of CFOs, it’s safe to predict that many organizations will downsize their office space. We might see in-person work meetings become special occasions in rented spaces rather than an everyday event. For the offices that remain, our social distancing experiences will likely make us want closed rooms or spaced apart desks in our work environment. Reduced space for data centers may lead to an even greater reliance on cloud computing. Artificial intelligence and voice-activated technology could replace many of the shared buttons and touch interfaces we use in elevators and break rooms. For more discussion of how COVID-19 might affect office space, read this VOX article.
With COVID-19 upsetting the status quo for businesses across the world, it’s natural to wonder what workplaces of the future will look like for different industries. For example, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on air travel have been sudden and dramatic: the number of travelers screened at U.S. airports has dropped by a staggering 96%. However, one can imagine airlines bouncing back once proper safety protocols are in place, especially considering their infrastructure and equipment are unaffected by the pandemic.
Other industries’ business model may change forever from COVID-19. The pandemic may lead to the end of the shopping mall, as UBS is expecting 100,000 brick-and-mortar retail stores to close permanently by the end of 2025 while predicting online retail sales to grow by 25%. This suggests retail will struggle to survive without a strong eCommerce presence. Fitness and wellness may also change permanently, as a skeptical public may be wary of returning to shared exercise spaces and gyms. Considering fitness apps and online classes are booming as more consumers choose to work out at home, it’s worth wondering if shared exercise may become a primarily digital activity.
THE PANDEMIC MAY LEAD TO THE END OF THE SHOPPING MALL, AS UBS IS EXPECTING 100,000 BRICK-AND-MORTAR RETAIL STORES TO CLOSE PERMANENTLY BY THE END OF 2025 WHILE PREDICTING ONLINE RETAIL SALES TO GROW BY 25%.
Now that our teams are distributed and we have fewer resources to work with, we’ve all been forced to innovate in how we do our best work. For example, essentially everyone has had to become proficient in communication technology like video conferencing apps and content collaboration software. But as we look beyond the height of this disruption, it’s worth asking which skills will become essential to the future of work after COVID-19.
Given all the disruption in the marketplace, a good skill to build is what Gartner calls digital dexterity. This is a soft skill that reflects our ability to recognize the potential of new technology, alter how we work to better include it in our employee experience, and learn how this technology can support the larger mission of our company. One way we can start working on our digital dexterity is to use the PWC digital fitness app. This provides lessons and articles on emerging technology, and also offers certifications based on the lessons we complete.
BEING PROACTIVE ABOUT THE CHANGE AND EMBRACING THE CHANGE WILL LET YOU, TO SOME EXTENT, INFLUENCE AND CONTROL THAT CHANGE.
Change is a permanent element of work and life. When situations like the current pandemic force us to adapt our employee experience quickly, it’s easy for the pace of change to overwhelm us. If you feel this way, you are not alone. But in the midst of a systemic shift in how we work, the more we can take Meerah’s advice and ask good questions about the future, the more we can be proactive and envision the new workplace we want to create.